The Etymology of "Wisdom;"

The Coiling helix of Time;

The 2 names of Mary

An alchemical dialectic of history.


by Johnes Ruta


The Etymology of "Wisdom"


"Philosophy" comes to us from the ancient Greeks’ love for wisdom and knowledge, and literally the name means a "lover of Wisdom."
Philo Sophia
-- Filo Sofia, from the times of Pythagoras and Aristotle onward, Philosophy becomes the mother of the thought process. –

In Western thought, the Philosophical principles of geometry and harmony have given us our:
1. guidelines in the recognition of patterns;
2. terms of phenomena we categorize;
3. basis for our understanding of Nature, and physical science;
4. organization of data systems;
5. structure of Western music, and visual design.

But the notion of the "lover of Wisdom," in a still-evolving Western philosophical tradition begun by Pythagoras, conceals an even deeper physical relationship between "intuitive knowledge" and the liquid, "oceanic" sexual manifestations of the human body.

From somewhere deep in our interior knowledge, we recognize the name Sofia as the "goddess of wisdom," even the personification of Wisdom -- but the Pre-Greek origin of this logos is still shrouded in a dualistic mystery of the Near East. This dualist question, simply put, is the conflict between the forces of Light and Darkness, in ethical terms : good vs. evil.  

Since the establishment of Christianity, the distinction between (a) Platonic "ideal" Forms, and (b) the biological and potentially "sinful" physical individuality of real Persons -- Dualism has come to represent the
on-going cultural battle between acceptance and rejection of the erotic.

The first Greek use of the name Sofia comes before the 6th century BCE, after itinerant teachers who sometimes distinguished themselves as sophos --wofoV - "a wise one" But, it is Pythagoras, after his
early travels, who begins the new third-person epithet, "I am philo, F ilo, the lover, of Sophos." What had impressed this young student so much? Where did the name "sophos" originate ? Was this Pythagoras’ attraction of Eros for his deity of Wisdom, an entity able to be loved and even physically embraced ?

At about the age of eighteen, Pythagoras visits the great astronomer Thales of Miletus who advises him to travel to Egypt and learn its wisdom and its mysteries. The Roman biographer Iamblichus gives us the story of Pythagoras (569 - 475 BCE) setting out from his native isle of Samos, by the Ionian coast of Asia Minor, first studying in Byblos then Tyre.

Having once seen these Syrian cities when traveling with his father as merchants, he now carries a letter of introduction from the tyrant Polycrates to the Egyptian ally, King Amasis, but is nearly sold into slavery by Egyptian sailors. [Pythagorean Source Book, David Feidler, editor; pp. 5-61; Phanes Press]

Making his way up to the ancient Nile cities of Memphis and Zeus, he studies for twenty-two years with the priests of the same temples where Thales had been mentored.

In Egypt, legends from the early Dynastic periods trace the invention of hieroglyphic writing to the ibis-headed Thoth, god of wisdom, who is also the planetary equivalent of the Greek Hermes and Roman Mercury. In order that RA, great god of all, should pronounce all of his utterances, it is Thoth who is his registrar and scribe : RA’s thoughts, passed through the heart of Ptah (also, goddess of the abyss) are formed into words by Thoth. Memphis, where Pythagoras studied, is the center of the cult of Ptah. [From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, E.A.. Wallis Budge, p. 152, Oxford University Press, 1934.]

In 525 BCE, when the Persian army of Cambyses invades Egypt, Pythagoras is captured as a foreigner, and transported overland to Babylon itself, where his captors, impressed with his mathematical aptitude, place him into happy servitude with the Zoroastrian Magi priests.

In the Babylon Pythagoras would have encountered in the 6th century BCE, there mingle several confluences -- the earliest being the mythos of the ancient Sumerians, dramatized by the battle between the generations of the gods, between the primordial Ti’amat and her grand-children led by Marduk. Secondly : there are the esoteric traditions of the Hebrews-- many of whom, already freed in 538 by Cyrus from their 87 year "Captivity," and established in their trades and studies, have chosen to remain in Babylon.-- Pythagoras is introduced to the semitic angelology of Seth of the so-called "Aeons," beliefs which date into the second millennium BCE. Thirdly : there is the relatively new messianic/apocalyptic Zoroastrianism from Iran, in which the Light vs. Dark battle between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman is played out between the six Archons of each, epitomized in the contradictions of the archdemon Naonghas against the Wise Counsel of the feminine archon Spenta Armaiti, "The Devoted One." [Zoroastrian Faith, S.A. Nigosian, pp. 78, 82, 86; McGill-Queens University Press, Montreal, 1993.]

After many years of learning in Babylon, perhaps here finding the philological roots underlying the Greek word "sophos," Pythagoras is released to return to Samos where he starts his own school. Later, when relations with Polycrates sour, his settlement migrates to Croton in southern Italy, where it continues in fragmented leadership into the time of the Romans.

From these early travels, Pythagoras’ scientific and mathematical thinking focus on one central observation of series in the ten primary numbers based within its triple of 30 -- as are the three ranks of Babylonian archangels, composed of 12, 8, and 10 each.: the Aeons of the Dodecad, the Ogdoad, and the Decad. -- Pythagoras sees the natural cycles recurrent in this framework -- recurrences in formulating the length of the triangle hypotenuse, and recurrences in harmonic sound vibrations found by plucking strings fretted into evenly fractal segments. [The Tree of Gnosis, Ioan Couliano, p. 70, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1992; The Nag Hamadi Library, The Hypostasis of the Archons, James M. Robinson, general editor, HarperSanFransicso, 1978]

Transcendent "Wisdom," for Heraclitus , is equated to the eternity of the universal Logos -- logoV -- "the Word," which spans the cosmos "above the ceaseless conflict of opposites." A mystic of fire of the same period, Heraclitus did not publish his writings during his life, but deposited them in the Temple of Artemis after 500 BC, from where they survive in fragmented form. Heraclitus’ dialectical "Wisdom" lies not in the quantity of learning, but in the awakening of the entire soul to the world-order of self-knowledge and the perpetual stream of creation, on the equation, "All things are in an exchange for fire, as goods for gold, and gold for goods." [Oxford Classical Dictionary, p. 500, "Heraclitus", N.L.G. Hammond & H.H. Scullard, editors; Oxford University Press, 1970]

Around 450 BCE, it is Protagoras who invents the metaphoric tradition of the Sophist, and his successors who take the principles of rhetoric one step beyond, into the realm of cynicism -- the result being the hyperbolic syllogism -- the formula where if A = B, and B = C, then A must equal C, an idea which can be taken to any extreme "philosophical" stand point or posturing. Such specious reasoning even today is called "Sophistry."

But the idea of the vision of "philosophy" is never thoroughly abandoned. The late Roman writer Boethius, in the prologue to his Consolation of Philosophy, describes how there appeared to him in his prison cell a majestic woman of ripe years, whose stature changed as he witnessed her, from normal height to so tall that her body reached into the heavens. Her clothes were dull with long neglect; but in her left hand she brandished a scepter, and in her right hand were held books. On her head she wore a crown with three heads; her robe is decorated with flowers at the bottom, fish in the middle, and stars at the top (an allusion to the three branches of philosophy: moral, natural, and contemplative, which the Middle Ages identified with the elements of earth, water, and air. Philosophy is the "mother" of the Seven Liberal Arts. [Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art; James Hall, pp. 245-6; Harper Row, NY, 1974]

The Double Helix of Sophia, 13th Aeon

In the Near Eastern streams of culture that Pythagoras encounters, the links of Sophia occur in a dual thread,
a double-helix. The names "Sophia" and/or "Wisdom" appear as personifications in many gnostic texts
-- texts which historically entwine the myths of Sumer, Syria, Egypt, Phoenicia, and the Israelites.

As early as the 10th century BCE, King Solomon in the biblical Book of Proverbs relates the legend of Wisdom as if it were already ancient:

    Blessed is the man that findeth Wisdom and is rich in prudence… She is more precious than all riches… Length of Days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and glory. Her ways are beautiful ways, and all her paths peaceable. She is a Tree of Life to them that lay hold upon her; and he that shall retain her is blessed. The Lord by Wisdom hath founded the earth, & hath established the heavens by prudence. By his Wisdom the Depths have broken out, and the clouds grow thick with dew. (Proverbs 3:13-20.)

    The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning. I [Wisdom] was set up in eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived, neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out. The mountains with their huge bulk had not yet been established; before the hills I was brought forth. He had not yet made the earth, or the rivers, nor the poles of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was present; when a certain law and compass he enclosed in the depths, when he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters. When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set law to the waters that they should not pass their limits; when he balanced the foundations of the earth, I was with him forming all things, and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times; playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. (Proverbs 8:22-31)

What is the significance of the visual motives used by Solomon: the Tree of Life, the Depths, the clouds grown thick with dew? Wisdom is described as "set up in eternity before the creation of the earth;" She "was with Him forming all things," and there when "he compassed the sea within its bounds…"

In the Hebrew genesis imported by Abraham from Ur in Mesopotamia, down the double-helix it is Lilith who stands opposite Eve; then the inebrious Norea (wife of Noah) opposite the righteous Ruth; then, into the Christian segment of time, where the beatific Virgin Mary stands opposite the defiled Mary Magdalene. In the Roman and Italian segments down this helix, Boethius’ stately "Philosophy" inspires Dante’s romantic view of his ideal Beatrice, adored in her youthful human state -- then, in her afterlife, of ineffable beauty...

Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, was considered the source of a semitic gnosis, spread from Mesopotamia into Canaan and Assyria, in which Sophia is the name of the 13th, last, and only feminine entity of the initially created Aeons, the first created order of beings, considered to be the mute messengers of Jehovah. Of these, Abraxas is the first, the Supreme Unknowable, the source of 365 Emanations. Even in the later Kaballah, the Aeons are the innermost circle of angels, surrounding the spectral radiance of God; Hokhma, Wisdom, is one of the ten points of light composing the sefiroth ladder of illumination. [Kabbalah (A History), Gershom Scholem, p. 22; Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem, 1974]

Sophia is the Aeon of Wisdom, who is anguished with her subordinated and isolated position in the heavens. Wishing to create a perfect universe but being unable to find a partner in the Pleroma, the upper "fullness," she unlawfully seeks one from the lower regions, the Kenoma, the chaotic abyss or void beneath. She tries to procreate with her own personified Anguish from within the Void, but produces only abortive matter -- the abominable birth of Yldaboath -- the dark Demiurgos of the physical world...[The Tree of Gnosis, Ioan P. Couliano, pp. 70-88; Harper San Francisco, 1992]

The 13th Aeon or archon, Sof ia is found by the Savior Archon Christos, seated below the others, weeping : Having once caught a glimpse of the Supreme Light, normally obstructed from her view by the positions of the first twelve archons, Sophia is seized by the desire to fly up to it. But Adamas, ruler-Archon of her proper place, becomes enraged at her act of rebellion against himself and causes a false light -- ignis fatuus -- to shine upon the waters of the subjacent Chaos; she is lured down into the Abyss and beset by spirits eager to deprive her of her native light. By the Savior Archon Christos’ aid, she ascends through the positions of all twelve Aeons and sings a Confession at each stage of her deliverance out of chaos. [Gnostics & Their Remains, C.W. King; p. 41; G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1887]

Michael Maier, Atlanta fugiens;1618, Prague. Emblema XIV. Hic est Draco caudam suam devorans. 'Here is the Dragon that devours his own tail.' This dragon, Ouroboros, is perhaps the oldest hermetick hieroglyph, symbolizing the Unity of Matter and the Mercury of the Wise, in which, assert the Philosophers, everything is found. [From: The Golden Game, Alchemical Engravings of the Seventeenth Century, by Stanislas Klossowski de Rola; Thames & Hudson, Ltd., 1988, London.

The Coiling Helix of "Time"

The image of the "light reflected upon the waters" is identical with that in Genesis 1:1 of the Tehom, literally, "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters," the same as the primordial Ti’amat, in the ancient Sumerian Enuma Elish – the dragon personification of Chaos, from which springs all of Creation…

In the Sumerian city of Eridu, the element Water represents the beginning of all things. The inhabited world sprang up from the deep and is still encircled by Khubur, the ocean stream, beyond which the sun-god pastures his cattle. In the later city of Babylon, Heaven is con-sidered a solid vault, the foundation of which rests on the vast ocean, Ti’amat, "the watery mass" (salt water), which also supported the earth. Ti’amat is mingled with her mate Apsu the "sweet waters" (fresh water), in a divine androgynous matrix. [The Babylonian Genesis, Alexander Heidel, "The Enuma Elish" translated, University of Chicago Press, 1942]

In the early Greek Pelasgian Cosmogony, it is Eurynome who is the Goddess of All Things.

    "She rose naked from Chaos, but found nothing substantial to support her feet. Eurynome therefore divided the sea from the sky, dancing lonely upon its waves towards the south, and set the wind in motion behind her. She turned about and caught the North Wind, Boreas, between her two hands, and rubbed them together until Ophion appeared, a great coiling serpent. As Eurynome dances wilder and wilder to warm herself, Ophion grows lustful and coils about her divine limbs and is moved to couple with her. Eurynome then assumes the form of a dove, brooding upon the waves, and lays the Universal Egg of the Cosmos. At her bidding, Ophion coils seven times around the egg until it hatches and splits in two. Out tumble all things that exist, her children: sun, moon, planets, stars, the earth with its mountains, rivers, trees, herbs, and living creatures. Eurynome and Ophion then make their home upon Mount Olympus, where he vexes her by claiming to be the author of the Universe, until she bruises his head, kicks out his teeth, and banishes him to the dark caves below the earth." [The Greek Myths, Robert Graves, p.27; Penguin Books, Ltd., London, 1955]

In the Orphic tradition as well, Apollo in his temple takes the form of the snake. The name Ophion also seems to bear within it the phoneme "aeon." The name of Sophia is already subsumed within the figure of Athena ("the Wisdom of Athens"). In the western regions of Ilyruim and Latinium, she is represented by "Minerva."

In the Gnostic texts the same motif is recurrent: the coiling serpent which represents the beginning of the universe, the eternal dimension before the advent of measured "Time" …

    And Mary said unto Jesus, "in what type is the outer darkness, and how many regions of chastisement are there?" And Jesus answered unto Mary, "The outer darkness is a great dragon,whose tail is in its mouth, outside and surrounding the whole world. And there are twelve mighty chastisement-dungeons within it, and a Ruler is within every dungeon ..." [Pistis Sophia, The Fourth Book, {Chapter 126}; translated by G.R.S. Mead; Garber Communications, Inc., Blauvelt, NY, 1984]

Sophia & the 2 Names of Mary

In the Beginning of the Hebrew Genesis, before Eve, the first mate of Adam is Lilith, who refuses to be subject of the dominions of Jehovah, Adam, or even the Serpent. She refuses to be penetrated from above by her husband and eventually walks alone into the wilderness, her name to be reviled even in modern times as the hater of the male race.

Jehovah next makes Eve from the very rib of Adam who is still visited by succubus demons causing him to suffer nocturnal emissions. In the gnostic text The Wisdom of Solomon (7:25), Eve is identified as a daughter of Sophia. Asleep in the conjugal bed, she also is visited and desired by incubus demons, and hides from them by spinning a counterfeit image which she leaves beside the sleeping Adam. Nonetheless, her hollow image is raped, and these progeny become a race of demons.

When Adam first saw Eve, he recognized in her not a mere marital partner, but a spiritual power: ‘And when he saw her, he said, "It is you who have given me life, you shall be called the Mother of the Living ["Eve"]; for it is She who is my Mother. It is She who is the Physician, and She Who has Given Birth." ’ [Nag Hammadi Library, p. 164 The Hypostasis of the Archons, (II,4)]

The Snake, sympathetic with Eve, explains to her that Jehovah wishes to keep his created creatures ignorant of the underlying nature of reality, symbolized by the danger of the "fruit" of the Tree Of Knowledge. He tells her that subordinate forces have claimed supremacy in the universe. These are the not only the subordinate forces of the Kenoma or Chaos, and the demon spawn, but also those inflexible, conceited ruler archons who have tried to rule Sophia.

In The Apocalypse of Adam, a Nag Hamadi discovery purportedly handed down from Seth, Adam on his deathbed predicts the ecological events to occur during Seth’s life and later generations, including the Great Flood. In The Apocryphon of John, Norea, the wife of Noah, (in Archons, the "virgin daughter of Eve;" and descendant of Cain,) is banned for her drunkenness from entering the ark, bringing her in anger to burn it four times. North Canaanite epics, older than the Torah, also vividly depict the exploits of the weather-god Baal, the Rider of the Clouds, who with two clubs bludgeoned the gods of the sea and river, Prince Yamm and Judge Nahar, confining them to their proper spheres. [Ugaritic tablets of Baal & Anath, VI AB, III AB C, translated by H.L.Ginsberg, quoted in The Ancient Near East, James B. Pritchard, editor; pp. 92-98; Princeton University Press, NJ, 1958.]

Is there a "missing link," in the language from an older mythic name, of which the West knowing this personification, transforms and sublimates into a rationalistic principle? Can we see in the western course a parallel stream of time, a distributary of an Eastern mythos, one which soon culminates in a strange and profound revelation?

With the coming of Christianity hundreds of years after Isaiah and Pythagoras , the deeper complexities of Sophia submerge within the icon of the Virgin Mother ---

The Pistis Sophia -- PistoV Sof ia -- a 2nd century CE text, relates, (as do The Gospel of Mary, The Eugnostos, The Sophia of Jesus Christ, and The Hypostasis of the Archons,) the philosophical and sexual dialog between Jesus and Mary Magdalene..Pistos, (Gk.) is the name of "the devoted," the faithful, or accurate one, who exists in parallel universes of time, within the same unfolding forward progression. Christos is the name of the Coming Messiah, the archangel messenger of Jehovah, described in the Book of Isaiah (8:23;9:1-6; 53:1-12).

In the gnostic gospels, Mary Magdalene is revealed as a woman of inherited property who lives the life of a courtesan, incurring the wrath of her neighbors by her amoral behavior and associations with Romans and Arabs. She is eventually rounded up with those preaching the story of the risen Christ, and is set adrift aboard a ship with no rudder, which somehow lands in Gaul, with Jesus’ silver chalice hidden in her possession. [The Holy Grail, Norma Lorre Goodrich, pp. 41-62; Harper Perennial Books, New York, 1992]

In the Pistis Sophia text, it is Sophia Barbelo, the "Virgin of Light," who decides in the afterworld whether a soul is to live in the Light or to return for reincarnation. By the time of his return from Babylon, Pythagoras also is a confirmed adherent of "metempsychosis," recalling five of his reincarnated lives. Sophia, the wife and companion of God is overcome with pity for fallen souls. Drawn by this pity, she herself suffers grievously. Sophia will rise again to heaven, but only after a struggle which will bring all the forces of Creation into play. In the hermetic principle of "as above so below," there is distinguished between the Sophia Barbelo above, the heavenly mother, and the one below, "Sophia Prounicos," ("the Wanton"). But it was Sophia Barbelo who hated her son, for stealing her "dew of light." [The Occult, Andre Nataf, p.83; Chambers Press, Edinburgh/ New York/Toronto, 1991]

In the parallel narrative, Jesus is speaking to his twelve apostles, with Mary Magdalene present in the conversation. Each "confession" in the ancient story is proposed by Jesus to one apostle at a time for explanation. Mary Magdalene mainly answers the propositions, as though possessing foreknowledge, and Peter rebukes her for not allowing the men to speak. During these parallel moments, while Jesus is reciting from the legend, Pistis-Sophia in the archon dimension regains her lost position. [The Gnostic Religion, Hans Jonas, pp. 176-177, 190-192; Beacon Press, New York, 1958] [cf. Iraeneus, Against the Heretics, 1,2,2]

The confessions which Sophia recites, each addressed to one Aeon at a time, represent the facets or attributes of self-examination into the ulterior motives of action, from the selfless giving of Christos, who inspires love and desire, to the inflexible rigidity of Adamas, who necessitates rebellion. In the Babylonian practice of spiritual confession, the symbolism of defilement is dominated by the spectre of "binding," epitomized by seizure, possession and enslavement from an external source, an assault by demons in the absence of a protective deity. The penitent becomes conscious of his sin as a dimension of his existence -- through which the interrogation of his conscience takes him back through the labyrinths of anguish and dereliction. [Le Symbolisme du Mal, Paul Ricoeur, pp.47-48, quoting from Babylonian Penitential Psalms (Oxford, 1927); Harper & Row, Paris, 1967]

The First Confession of Sophia begins, "O Light of Lights, in whom I have had faith from the beginning, save me, for evil thoughts have entered into me.... I gazed, O Light, into the Lower Parts and saw there a light, thinking, I will go to that region, in order that I may take that Light. And I went and found myself in darkness, which is in the Chaos below; and I cried for help, but my voice reached not out of the Darkness....

    And when I looked unto the height, I saw all the rulers of the aeons, how in their numbers they looked down on me, and rejoiced over me though I had done them no ill, but they hated me without a cause. And when the emanations of the Self-Willed saw those rulers rejoicing, they knew that the rulers would not come to my aid, and they sore pressed me with violence, and took courage, and the light which I have not taken from them, they have taken from me ..... [Pistis Sophia, The First Book {Chapter 32}, GRS Mead, translator.]

The recurrence of Time, of Sophia and Magdalene, echoes the Sumerian Enuma Elish narrative of Ti’amat, the double-helix uroborus dragon coiling in the Void who bites its own tail, personifying "the light of creation reflected over the subjacent waters of the deep". This uroborus is the "round container" of the maternal womb, the union of masculine and feminine opposites, the World Parents joined in perpetual cohabitation. [The Origin and History of Consciousness, Erich Neumann, pp. 10-15; The Bollingen Foundation, New York, 1954]

In The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene, she describes a dialog between the risen Savior and his disciples, where he answers their questions concerning matter and sin, telling them that sin is not a moral category but a cosmological one, due to the improper mixing of the physical and spiritual matter. She also describes a revelation not disclosed to the others -- the answer to her question of how one sees a vision. The Savior explains that "the soul sees through the window of the mind, between the soul and the spirit."

But, concerning a fourth essential component, the human body, The Great Questionsof Mary (criticized by Epiphanius in the 4th century, but never found) -- recounts Mary’s story of how Jesus takes her onto a mountain where she witnesses Him produce a woman from his side with whom he begins to have intercourse. [Panarion Haeresium, Epiphanius of Salamis, xxvi: 8,13; edited by K.Holl; Greich. christl. Schriftsteller, Leipzig, 1915-1931]

As shocking as this reads to us, perhaps this was not merely a gnostic obscenity, but the only way Magdalene could perceive the theurgic intensity of the longed for touch of Jesus -- their orgasmic physical union encapsulated and seen by her as the phylogenetic, archetypal creation of Eve.

Consider the word root of the name "Mary" – mare, L. "the sea" – In the Genesis Apocryphon (p. 2, line 4) mara di-revuta is "The Lord of Greatness," one of the predications of God. [Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem, p.16; Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem, 1974] " Mary" is both nourishing stream and underground aquafer : the name for both the Virgin Mother of Jesus, Sophia Barbelo, and for the one who intends to be his lover, Pistos Sophia. For the Virgin Mary – the sea is the Khubur of the Womb. For Magdalene, the orgasmic waters, which emerge from the labyrinth of her body, quench her pure desire for the penultimate fulfillment – that the soul of Wisdom be as real as the body, the "Son of Man" which stands for physical humanity….

Yet we still live in these two parallel streams as well : While, in the West, two pupils of Aristotle set forth the linear path as our ideal of "progress" as "logic," -- Theophrastus writing the histories of Physics and Metaphysics, and Eudemus, of Theology, Astronomy, and Geometry -- Thought itself was further rationalized as a clarity within the Void, still unclouded by heavenly rains -- that is, until the double-helix would reach from the east into the seemingly rational progression of "time." Thus the hidden name of Ti’amat, the core of Creation within the hidden Sophia, within the one name of two Marys, would arrive as a Last Wave of Apocalypse, a sea-change to drown the west in its memory of the Flood – the waters of caritas and Chaos....

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